Bulgarian hoteliers and restaurateurs threaten civil disobedience unless smoking ban laws changed

Bulgarian hoteliers and restaurateurs will deliberately allow the breaking of the country’s law against smoking in enclosed public places unless MPs agree to an easing of the ban, Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association Blagoy Ragin said ahead of a meeting of Parliament’s health committee on proposed amendments to the law.

He said that hoteliers and restaurateurs would embark on civil disobedience from December 15 to 30 if the smoking ban is not lifted.

The health committee is to meet on December 13 to consider amendments proposed by two independent MPs to revert to the law as it was before June 2012, allowing separate enclosed smoking areas in public places of entertainment.

Amid hints from some in the government that an easing of the law could be allowed to go ahead, there was increasing speculation in the Bulgarian media about the form that the possible backtrack would take.

Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said on December 11 that some ruling party MPs wanted the ban eased to help restaurants and businesses recover from the hit that they say they have taken because of the smoking ban.

Dian Chervenkondiev, an MP for Bulgaria’s ruling centre-right party GERB, said that probably what would be sought was what she called a “reasonable balance”, meaning a return to separate smoking and non-smoking areas.

Health Minister Desislava Atanasova has been firm in resisting any suggestion of reversing the full smoking ban, saying that public health must take precedence over all other considerations.

Representatives of the Hotel and Restaurant Association had an hour-long meeting on December 11 with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Atanasova and were told it was a matter for Parliament, reports said.

Ragin said that his association had held talks with MPs and about half of the MPs had been “convinced” by the association’s arguments. “But we need more support,” he said.

Some reports have suggested that possible amendments could include allowing smoking in restaurants and bars after 10pm or lifting the ban on smoking in bars.

Apart from the adamant opposition of the Health Minister and the head of Parliament’s health committee to a retreat on the smoking ban, the association Bulgaria without Smoke has called on people to support their protest on December 13 when the committee meets, to call for legislators to stand firm against easing current laws against smoking in enclosed public spaces.

(Photo: Rodrigo Matias/sxc.hu)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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